There’s barely an area of entertainment or recreation that Dubai hasn’t either broken into or attempted to break into during the past few years, but this latest trend is one we never expected to see. When you hear the words ‘luxury cruise’, there are to areas of the planet that tend to spring to mind. The first is the Caribbean. The second is the Mediterranean. At a push, you might consider getting aboard a cruise liner and heading to the United States of America to see what Florida and the surrounding areas have to offer. In the past, Dubai and the rest of the Middle East would likely be far from your mind – but all that might be about to change.
As part of its ongoing quest to become the world’s destination of choice for just about anything and everything, Dubai is opening itself up as a cruise destination and making a pitch to the world’s largest cruise companies – and the early signs are that the pitch is working. The Mina Rashid Cruise Terminal – which already holds the distinction of being the most popular terminal of its kind in the region – is expected to receive more than one million visitors between October 2019 and April 2020. If it does so, that will be up from just over 850,000 visitors during the same period the year before. Cracking the target of one million won’t put it among the most popular cruise destinations in the world, but it will be a significant step in the right direction.
The appeal of Dubai as a cruise destination to European visitors, in particular, is twofold – firstly, the weather can be relied upon more so than it can in other popular vacation destinations. If you visit Dubai during summer months, you’re guaranteed hot weather and clear skies. Secondly, Dubai is much easier to access from the majority of European countries than America, the Caribbean, or even the majority of the Mediterranean. The cost of spending time in Dubai might be higher than the cost of spending time in Jamaica, but the cost of getting there is far lower for Europeans. The finances almost balance themselves out, and a reduction in travel time means that holiday-goers spend less time traveling to their destination and more time enjoying their vacation.
As a sign of Dubai’s growing reputation among cruise operators and tourists, Italian operator Costa Cruises has sent its flagship to the region for the first time ever during December. The enormous vessel, named the Costa Diadema, features an onboard cinema, shopping mall, and casino, and measures more than 300 meters from end to end. When fully occupied, it’s more like a floating town than a ship and represents the highest standards of one of the world’s premier cruise vacation specialists.
It’s currently unclear how the presence of a fully functional casino aboard the ship is consistent with Dubai’s strict rules on gambling. As has been observed several times by Western media in the past, although Dubai has spent the past ten years becoming more like Las Vegas in every way imaginable with its never-ending list of attractions, the one Vegas factor it’s never emulated is the casino scene. The laws of Dubai make all forms of gambling illegal, and the penalties for anybody caught either taking part in gambling activities or providing access to gambling games are severe.
There have been suggestions in the past that as part of its ongoing modernization, Dubai might become the first location within the United Arab Emirates to legalize gambling. It’s known that multiple online slots companies would love to operate within Dubai, and they would bring huge amounts of money with them. The global market for paypal slots is worth more than fifty billion dollars each year and is expected to continue to grow throughout the next decade. The bigger the money on offer for allowing access to online slots website becomes, the more tempting the prospect is likely to become for Dubai, but for now, the practice remains prohibited. It’s likely that the Costa Cruises vessel will keep its casino closed while it’s in Dubai’s waters, and will re-open it as soon as it exits those waters.
When one cruise company moves to include a new destination on its list, all of its rivals inevitably follow suit. That’s why the news that Costa Cruises would be visiting Dubai this winter was almost immediately followed by the news that world-renowned brands like Royal Caribbean and MSC Cruises will also be sending large vessels of their own in the coming months. When they do, they’ll find plenty of new facilities waiting to greet them. Mina Rashid only had a third terminal installed in 2014 but is currently undergoing a $7bn expansion and renovation project, which will include the opening of a brand new marina and a piazza styled on Venice.
By the time Expo 2020 begins in October, the Dubai Harbor project is expected to have been completed. If it has, Dubai will be home to two of the world’s most advanced and modern cruise terminals, and arriving by cruise might be the stylish thing to do when it comes to attending the glamorous international exhibition. Available to only the most wealthy and well-heeled guests, Dubai Harbour will have space to turnaround two giant cruise liners at the same time and is expected to welcome 250,000 VIP passengers within its first twelve months of operation.
Although cruises have always been associated with opulence and glamour, it may prove to be the case that for some visitors, arriving on a cruise is the cheapest way to sample Dubai’s delights. With all costs factored in, passengers on a cruise liner who take advantage of the Government’s ‘Dubai Stopover Pass’ initiative (which provides discounts on access to major attractions such as the Dubai Aquarium and the Burj Khalifa) is likely to be cheaper than spending five days in a hotel. Dubai is constantly looking to increase the number of tourists it receives each year, and making itself more accessible in terms of pricing is one way to do that.
Displacing the world’s most popular cruise destinations is likely to be a difficult task for Dubai. It might even prove to be impossible. Despite that, there’s one thing we’ve learned about the Emirate over the years – ignoring the fact that it’s illegal to gamble there, it’s a place you should never bet against.
Also published on Medium.